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Father’s Day Tribute Over Three Generations

Dad and me back in the day

Posted in ChicagoNow, June 12, 2014

My father died two years ago. It still feels weird not searching for a book he would enjoy or the perfect card to send. Instead, I will dedicate this post to three generations of fathers – my dad, my husband, and my son and sons-in-law.

Fathers like mine from the Greatest Generation were not expected to do much parenting beyond discipline. My mother claims he helped bathe me and I do remember him reading to me. But mostly I remember he went to work, came home, sat in his special chair reading the paper (this was “do not disturb” time), and ate dinner with us. If my brothers or I needed discipline, Dad delivered the world’s longest lecture. It was a greater punishment than yelling or grounding would have been.

My father was never in charge of us except as the tour guide on vacation (more lectures). In general, his main responsibility was to “bring home the bacon.” He was not expected to take us to the doctor, attend school conferences, or sit through our performances. He did coach my brothers’ little league teams but often confessed he didn’t know what to do with girls. He said the same about his granddaughters and great granddaughters. Our gender was a mystery to him.

My husband is a mellow Baby Boomer through and through. He is a caring father and grandfather, but he draws the line at changing diapers and doing solo turns until the kids are old enough to talk to him and listen to reason. I could never threaten my kids with “wait until your father comes home.” They knew he would be a soft touch who would rather give in than get involved in conflict.

Unlike my father, when he was home, he was 100% present. While he might have preferred playing ball with our son, he sat through more of his daughters’ skating shows and school performances than he could count. He was our children’s homework helper, game player, and advisor. Anything that interested them was a priority for him. Still, when he stayed with the kids solo, he was babysitting. And I was grateful when he did it.

Not so for my son and sons-in-law. When they watch their kids, they are co-parenting. When they are home for dinner, they help make it. When groceries are needed, they shop for them. But here’s a big difference – they can’t always be home for dinner, or even bedtime. Weekends can also be uncertain. And their wives are also working, so life has become a game of divide and conquer.

These Gen-Xers have to do it all when they can, from diapers to sleep training to bedtime rituals. That’s the good news. But the bad news is that there are many nights when they return from work too late to be story readers or homework helpers, and many weekends filled with work obligations. “Wait until your father gets home” has a hollow ring to it these days.

I guess I grew up with the dad from Father Knows Best and married the dad from The Cosby Show. I’m not sure who is the model for the modern co-parent. It could be a partner of either gender who struggles to raise children in a much less family-friendly world. The folks in Modern Family and Parenthood only capture part of what it is like, and a very privileged part at that.

So, to all of the contemporary fathers and partners out there, I am in awe of all you have to do to keep the family ship afloat. To my son and sons-in-law, I see how hard it is to be present in your children’s lives and I appreciate all you do. To my husband, thanks for being a caring father and grandfather. And to my father, I miss you, Dad.


by Laurie Levy
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